Michael Jackson and Privacy

113px-the_deathsvgThe news clips from Michael Jackson’s memorial give me a reason to mount one of my favorite hobbyhorses — the change in the way that we view public grief.   I defer to Dan Solove on all matters related to privacy, but this is a special case.

In April 1968, Robert F. Kennedy came to Indianapolis for a campaign stop.  On that day, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.  The crowd gathered for RFK’s speech was unaware of this news, and he was the one who told them. There is a famous video of this speech that is audio only for RFK’s announcement of the death and the subsequent cries from the crowd.  The cameraman did not want to film people in their moment of grief, and thus did not open the lens until after the news had sunk in.

Today that guy would be fired.  Why?  Because our media culture demands tears.  Good television (and video) is now defined by capturing raw emotion.  There is also (for reasons that I find baffling) a sense today that it’s a good thing to express grief publicly, whether in the context of spectacles (Princess Diana’s funeral comes to mind) or talk shows.  In short, there is a diminished expectation of privacy for grief.

This extends, by the way, to public memorials. Since the creation of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial by Maya Lin, people seem to assume that all victims of a great tragedy (Oklahoma City, 9/11) will become public property in stone.  Memorials didn’t used to look like this, of course.  Moreover, I’m not sure it would occur to people (or even be acceptable) that family members might decline this honor and want to remember their loved ones in a quiet place out of the spotlight.

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1 Response

  1. Sharon McEachern says:

    I don’t think many of Michael Jackson’s family members or friends really desired privacy in their grief. It’s not just that scores readily accepted interviews on CNN and other news media , and you’ll note how their comments are now changing regarding drugs and his physical appearance; but, it has just been revealed to the public that the Jackson family had been filming a reality show for A&E network for weeks prior to Michael’s death.Somehow I don’t buy their “give us some privacy in our grief” comments when it’s said repeatedly on many TV news shows. They want face time (which will later result in money) not private grief time.

    And now we have the Burr Oak Cemetery tragedy outside of Chicago, where more than 300 graves were robbed, bodies dismembered and thrown in a mass pit at the historic African-American cemetery. Hundreds of news media have been filming the thousands of desperate and grieving family members, especially the mothers who can’t find any graves whatsoever in the “Babyland” section of the cemetery.

    Two really good articles, among the thousands written this week on Burr Oak, are:

    http://www.ethicsoup.com/2009/07/burr-oak-cemetary-mama-where-are-you-theyve-robbed-your-grave.html

    http://www.ethicsoup.com/2009/07/where-is-emmett-tills-coffin-where-are-the-babyland-graves-.html